QUAERITUR: With what level of voice should priests say those quiet prayers?

From a priest:

A thought: In the rubrics of the Missal, would you agree that a change in a word signifies a change in action? Looking at the prayers that the priest says that are not directed to the congregation, I noticed a change. Three weeks ago, those prayers were to be said “inaudibly.”
Now, those prayers are to be said “quietly.” (Third typical edition) This includes at the Offertory (“With humble spirit…”), before the Agnus Dei (“May the mingling…”) and several times after the Agnus Dei. To me, a change of word does mean a change of action; otherwise, the rubrics would have kept the word “inaudible” as the direction to be followed. And clearly, “inaudible” is not equivalent to “quietly.”
Having said these words quietly now for two weeks, I find that when I say them quietly, I say each word…and with more reverence. And here is another point. The Latin-English Missals I used when growing up had the translations for ALL the words that the priest said at Mass; I have not found any Missal”ette” that has ever informed the congregation of these inaudible prayers that the priest prays at Mass…I thought one of the purposes of the vernacular Mass was to better inform those present what was happening at the Mass. I wonder why these prayers were never provided to the faithful…So, a question: is it proper for the priest to now say the formerly “inaudible” prayers in a quiet voice that could therefore actually be heard by altar boys and the first pew of congregants?

A good question.  You are very observant!  Thanks for Saying the Black and Doing the Red!

We must consider what the rubrics say in the Latin edition.   The priest is at times to say prayers “secreto” or as it is rendered at times “in a low voice”.   Parts to which servers must reply are to be just loud enough, in a subdued voice, to be audible to them.

In the Extraordinary Form there were two levels of voice.  At Low Mass the priest would either say texts aloud so that all could hear or  softly, as in a whisper so that the priest himself can hear but not others.   At a Solemn Mass much is sung, so, obviously, those texts are heard by all.  Other parts are with clara voce (aloud), or secreto (softly).  Parts to which servers must reply are to be in a subdued voice just loud enough to be audible to them.

I think we could take our cue from the way this was always done in the past, in our Latin, Roman tradition.

Certain texts requiring responses are addressed to the people and servers.  They should be audible to all who are to respond.  The other prayers, which the priest says on his own and which are not directed to people for a response, should be in the low voice, secreto as the Latin says.  Sometimes there is music during the offertory when the priest says prayers that need a response.  I would use a subdued voice so that a server/deacon nearby could respond, without necessarily being audible to the congregation over and against the music.

In my opinion, we should with the Novus Ordo, Ordinary Form, recapture something of the fact that, often, the priest is not talking to the congregation all the time.

Perhaps some priests will jump in with helpful observations.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TC says:

    “In my opinion, we should with the Novus Ordo, Ordinary Form, recapture something of the fact that, often, the priest is not talking to the congregation all the time.”

    More easily done if the priest were celebrating ad orientem, no?

  2. The prayers in question, in the ordinary form, I say in a soft voice, which the servers, if they are attentive, can hear. However, I’ve never taught them to respond to the prayers when the people don’t; for one, I usually pray most of them in Latin; for another, we have several priests who regularly offer Mass in my two parishes, and we don’t all follow the same practice and aren’t likely to do so.

    One of the retired priests who offers Mass regularly here says those prayers essentially aloud for all to hear.

    The one exception is that several of these prayers are newly translated and those I didn’t memorize in Latin, I now must pray from the Missal until I’ve learned them; and I find it easier to pray them silently under such circumstances. But this causes me to wonder if I ought to say the words audibly, even very softly, rather than inwardly?

  3. Speravi says:

    Since liturgical prayer is public and external (as well as internal), I have been at least moving my lips during the secret prayers and whispering them almost silently; that way, I am carrying out the external worship of the Church in an external manner, even if silent. In the seminary I was told to do the opposite, because (paraphrasing) it is unfair that people should see you are saying prayers and not know what you are saying. As Fr. Z indicated above, I think that it is good for the people to see there can be prayers at Mass that are not directed to their hearing, but directly to God.

    I have whispered the Lavabo prayers (in Latin) such that the servers could hear them; I am not sure if this is indifferent or wrong…I have done it under the assumption that they are still secret with respect to the congregation and that the OF would probably not consider the servers as a separate category about which to make legislation on this matter, since in the OF the making responses belongs to the congregation as a whole.

    Finally, since the new translation is only a translation, I would not interpret a change in the translation to mean a change in the rubric, unless the Latin changed.

  4. louder says:

    I always say those prayers quietly, and numerous times I say the prayers holding the chalice and paten quietly also because I find that I’m tired of hearing myself at this point of the mass. I just feel a lot of the time that after the Prayers of Intercession, I’ve been doing nothing but speaking to a captive audience and that we all need peace and quiet at that point… well, at least I do.

  5. Imrahil says:

    The silent prayers should be said as silent as a) not breaking the character of silence, b) particularly more silent than loud prayers. That’s enough to fit my feelings; let others explain the rubrics which, of course, must be observed.

    That is, in a Silent Mass (e-o.) the silent prayers should be inaudible.

    One exception: I do like to hear the Words of Consecration even in Silent Masses (there are some priests who do so), and this even with some theoretical reasons, though not distrust.

  6. Bryan Boyle says:

    As a lay person can I chime in? We need the silence, too, to reinforce that it’s not all about US, but, rather, you priests, in personna Christi, talking to the Father on our behalf. Holy silence is not a bad thing, and is a moment of catechesis on your part, and may actually force the congregation to PAY ATTENTION. For those who do…know that you’ve a lot of laity hungering for a return to solemnity, which silence in the presence of God certainly reinforces.

  7. leonugent2005 says:

    Imrahil a few days back we had a discussion of the validity of the mass if a priest refused to say “many” during the consecration. As I remember no discussion of silent consecrations ever came up.

  8. A Dominican Priest says:

    According to the preconciliar Dominican Caeremoniale, in the Dominican Rite there are 3 tones of voice.

    1. The clear voice (“vox clara et intelligibilis”): a tone loud enough to be heard and understood by the faithful in a parish church (at least, those near the front). Most of the principal parts of the Mass except for the Canon (e.g., collect, gloria, readings, “Dominus vobiscum,” Pater Noster, etc.) were said in this tone.

    2. The moderate voice (“vox mediocris”): a tone loud enough to be easily heard and understood by those in the sanctuary. This tone is used for only a few parts of the Mass (e.g., the confiteor, the orate fratres, and, interestingly, the last Gospel, perhaps because this was considered as a late-comer ‘add-on’ to the 13th century form of the Dominican Rite).

    3. The low voice (“vox secreta”): a tone loud enough to be heard only by the one uttering it, but not audible to the server. This is the tone used for the “private” prayers of the priest, as when preparing to read the Gospel, washing the fingers, purifying the chalice, etc. – as well as for the Canon, of course.

    In celebrating in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, I generally use the clear voice for most things (though whenever I am reciting anything with the people, like the confiteor, the gloria, the creed, I think it’s best that the priest not overwhelm the congregation, especially if his voice is amplified). For the secret prayers (before and after the Gospel, preparing the chalice, at the offertory, before communion, purifying the chalice), I use the low voice – that is, just a whisper, enough for me to hear it audibly, but not clearly audible to others.

    By the way, one of the things that I most appreciate as a celebrant in the Dominican Rite is praying the secret prayers secretly — that is, they express such a holy mystery, that it seems somehow more sacred to reverence them by putting as little of myself into them as possible. . . .

  9. Oh, one additional thing. Those interested in the role of servers in the various forms of the Dominican Rite (their responses and how to say them, for example) should know that the Dominican Altar Boys’ Manual is now available here:

  10. Joshua08 says:

    “That is, in a Silent Mass (e-o.) the silent prayers should be inaudible.”

    What on earth is a “Silent Mass”? Even in a low Mass the rubric direct that certain parts be said loud enough so that the congregation can hear (basically all those things that would be sung aloud in a Sung Mass, whether by choir or priest, and also the prayers at the foot and the last Gospel- the last Gospel, in the 1962 rubrics, is said quietly at a sung Mass, but aloud at a low Mass. This was a change iirc)

    In pre-1962 Roman Missals there were three levels of voice as in the Dominican rite. That the ending of the Orate fratres, for instance, be loud enough for the server to hear is extremely practical, as he isn’t to say the Suscipiat until then. At parishes I have been too recently I see one of two unfortunate practices. One is the priest saying the whole thing aloud even in a Sung Mass. The other is the servers jumping in immediately after the word fratres when the priest says the rest secreto. IIRC the 1962 Missale Romanum is actually inconsistent on the rubric here because, while in general the middle voice (loud enough for those at the altar, inaudible to the rest) was abolished in the general rubrics it still shows up in that place in the ordinary for the Orate, fratres.

    In anycase, I would assume that vox secreto should be taken the way it always has. Audible only to the one saying it. Truly said, but quiet, unless there is an obvious reason not to (as when a response must be made) I am unaware of any such place where a prayer is said quietly (secreto) in the NO. The response to the offertory prayers (Benedictus Deus in sæcula) is not said, right?

  11. Melody says:

    Our Lord is right there in front of you. Speak to Him at the volume you would another person in a quiet room.

  12. Elizabeth D says:

    “Parts to which servers must reply are to be in a subdued voice just loud enough to be audible to them.”

    Is it naughty for members of the congregation to respond at Low Mass to various parts which the choir would reply to at High Mass (sursum corda/habemus ad Dominum etc)? Or for that matter for members of the congregation to respond to these parts with the choir at High Mass, sing along with the Asperges, Gloria, Credo?

  13. Mitchell NY says:

    I attended the NO Mass on Sunday to hear how the new translations were going and I noticed that during the Consecration the Priests’ lips were moving. Obviously he was praying, but I doubt anyone in the Sanctuary could actually here him. It was the first time I noticed that. Would that be considered “sotto” voice? While he was doing do there was a flutter of activity around him with Altar servers and EMHC’s and I thought to myself, “How odd, a beautiful, perfect mystery is taking place and no one is even paying attention”, So even when the silence is there, and prayers are whispered, the anticipated active participation has taken control of the senses of people and the interior participation of praying alongside the Priest or even paying attention passively has been eclipsed. For that reason I do like the idea of a silent Consecration. Where you witness the elevation, and hear the bells. People tend to remain quiet and pay attnetion to the actions of the Priest more intently. The audible, inaudible, audible, inaudible mode just doesn’t elicit an atmosphere of continued silence and attention.

  14. michelelyl says:

    I have to say it was a bit confusing for the people- our priest leaves the microphone on while saying the prayers quietly…the priest’s prayers are not all printed in the ‘missalette’ and with everyone worried about the correct responses, we had a few ‘false starts’ the past couple of weeks. I actually like it when the priest says the prayers so quietly that even the front row can’t hear them.

  15. Centristian says:

    The associate pastor/parochial vicar/curate…they change that title so often I’ve lost track…at the parish to which I belong says the secret prayers loud enough so that the congregation can hear him (with a mic on) but not as loud as he recites everything else.

    I like hearing priest recite these prayers, to be honest.


    “Is it naughty for members of the congregation to respond at Low Mass to various parts which the choir would reply to at High Mass (sursum corda/habemus ad Dominum etc)? Or for that matter for members of the congregation to respond to these parts with the choir at High Mass, sing along with the Asperges, Gloria, Credo?”

    Of course not; it’s ideal, as a matter of fact. Even in the Society of St. Pius X the dialogue Mass is promoted and the faithful are encouraged to sing along with the choir. The faithful, generally speaking, ought to respond and ought to sing. Now, that’s assuming that you aren’t attending Mass at someplace where there exists an understanding and a custom to the contrary. It wouldn’t do, of course, for one solitary worshipper to respond aloud while all else are silent.

  16. PaterAugustinus says:

    I’m not a priest yet, but I am in preparation for the priesthood, an it please God. The Byzantine Rite is full of these “secret” prayers, as is our Sarum Use; if the prayer is truly secret, requiring no server’s hearing or response, one softly whispers them; if it involves servers, one says them softly, right at the mid-point between a whisper and a normal, speaking voice. Nearby servers can hear everything audibly, and people near the front may hear, too, depending upon other factors. Otherwise, the priest is declaiming/intoning/chanting.

    When I first started my training for the priesthood and served with my elder, Fr. Ambrose, it was very moving to me to hear many of the softly-spoken prayers of the priest (it was at a Monastery, so I could hear his quiet whispering!). It also taught me how the Byzantine Rite also views the Liturgy as a re-presentation of the whole economy of Christ, since some of these soft prayers clearly related liturgical actions to the Life of Christ – like when the priest mentions the Entombment of Christ right after the Great Entrance (also symbolized by the closing of the Beautiful Gate and the drawing of the curtain), or quotes a Psalm related to the Ascension of Christ right before he blesses the congregation with the Mysteries and removes them finally to the Proskomide. His last silent prayer makes clear that relating the liturgical actions to Christ’s Economy, is one main focus of these prayers: “O Christ, Our God, Who art the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, Thou hast fulfilled the whole economy of the Father; fill also our hearts with joy and gladness, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

    The symbolism of the seccret prayers in the Latin Rite (and our Sarum Usage) is not quite the same, obviously. Often the secret prayers are so, simply because they relate to some inconspicuous action of the priest and servers at that moment (including, for us, the optional apologiae prayers of the priest). But sometimes the secret prayers do represent moments in the life of Christ – usually indicating how He was all but forsaken in the events surrounding His Passion: the priest says the Super Oblata (i.e., the “Secret”) very quietly, since it is specifically related to the Sacrifice. Our priests also say the Canon softly, with arms outstretched cross-wise for the Anamnesis and with all the servers having deserted the chancel until the Supplices Te Rogamus, to represent Christ’s alone-ness and uniqueness in offering Himself to the Father, making His high priestly prayer while the Disciples slept, and suffering crucifixion while most had deserted Him. This is an ancient custom.

    We think the distinction between secret vs. declaimed is important, both because it sometimes marks an important symbolism, and sometimes because it is simply good liturgical taste not to telegraph every word and action of the priest and ministers. Sadly, in many of the modernist Orthodox jurisdictions, one finds that an impulse to let everyone see and hear everything (for similarly misguided reasons of “participation”), has caused priests to start wearing microphones and screaming all the secret prayers.

    Harumph! I don’t like it! Secret prayers are that way for a reason. One also has to remember that a lot of these quiet prayers were developed or developing, during periods where the Altar was clearly separated from the people by a Rood Screen or Iconostas. So, soft prayers were all the more inaudible.

  17. Hmm. Seems my comment on the post of “Dominican Priest” got caught in the review cue. Well, okay. When it is released, as I pray Fr. Z. will do, just read it right before my “Oh, one additional thing” post.

  18. MikeM says:

    If the prayers are to be said quietly (or inaudibly), does it follow that the priest should not be saying them into a microphone? The majority of priests I’ve heard say Mass say the prayers quietly enough that they’re clearly different from the rest of the Mass… if they were unamplified the congregation would not hear them… but with the altar mic right in front of them, the prayers wind up audible.

    Personally, I like hearing the prayers since the words of the prayers are instructive on what’s going on in the Mass, but I can see the benefit to the prayers being inaudible… which, really, they’re not.

  19. QuaerensDeum says:

    To throw this in off the top of my head, there has been a problem from time to time in the history of the Church with priests who took advantage of the silent prayers to commit grievous sins. They would say, not the prayers indicated, but words which intentionally made fun of them and were nonsensical or worse. Perhaps this is why the prayers ought to be said aloud (not loudly, but not said inside one’s own head) so that the whisper could be heard by an altar server/deacon/subdeacon who strained or suspected. Since the words, especially of the Consecration, are essential to the sacrament, it’s an important matter whether or not transubstantiation occurs – even more grave considering the good faith of the people in the validity of what the priest is doing and their subsequent adoration and consumption of the host.

  20. Wade says:

    Our pastor, for years, has not only said ALL of the silent prayers at the same level and cadence as everything else, he has also added a small innovation. Prior to consuming the Body and Blood of Christ he says out loud “May the Body and Blood of Christ brings us to everlasting life.” To which, all those assisting respond in unison and in a loud voice “Amen.” This innovation (and its response) continue in our parish even with the new Missal.

    Unrelated, our pastor is also insistent that we pray together out loud and in unison during the purification of the sacred vessels. The prayers vary. My personal preference is silence at this time – but we seem unable to have even a moment of silence from start to finish.

  21. frival says:

    I posted about this very question on my itty bitty blog a little while ago. Most priests, unless the choir is still singing, say the prayers loud enough for everyone to hear. There is one priest though who prays them very quietly, but very intently. You can just tell there is a conversation going on between God and His Priest at the altar. For me it is a stunning reminder that no matter how much some try to conflate the roles of priest and laity the reality is starkly different.

  22. Imrahil says:

    Note that it never even entered my mind to question the validity of the e.-o.-usual (but, there also, not omnipresent) silent consecrations, nor do I want to control the priest.

    It’s just that from the principle that the receiver of the Sacrament ought to hear the forma of it (and I know that the priest receives also, but he is not especially representative for the receivers) I think their audibility (in so far as this was a change) is a change for the better. (Validity is not everything, though everything is nothing without it.) And this audibility is also present among some e.-o. celebrants.

  23. Random Friar says:

    And add on: does one say names aloud during the Roman Canon in the OF? It seems strange to me to pray aloud, and then shush for the names. Haven’t checked if this changed…

  24. jhayes says:

    The GIRM (32) requires that the Eucharistic Prayer and other “presidential parts” be spoken in a “loud and clear” voice.

    The “presidential” prayers are :

    30. Among those things assigned to the Priest, the prime place is occupied by the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the high point of the whole celebration. Next are the orations, that is to say, the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion. These prayers are addressed to God by the Priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ, in the name of the entire holy people and of all present.[43] Hence they are rightly called the “presidential prayers.”

    It appears that applies to the OF Mass in Latin as well as English and whether said “versus populum” or “ad orientem”

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